Tuesday, September 16, 2014

sick & reading

Yesterday I got sick. Harumph! I'm still sick, and just exhausted feeling. But I'm well enough to do some reading, and I've come across some great things in my readings that I'd like to share with you.

In the magazine, Saudi Aramco World, whose purpose is to increase cross-cultural understanding, I came across a review of two movies about Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. One movie, "Besa: The Promise," is about "countless Albanians, adhering to an ancient code of honor that bound them to shelter strangers in need, gave sanctuary to at least 2,500 Jews." These Albanians were all Muslims. The other movie, "Enemy of the Reich," is about a young Indian-Muslim woman who worked as a British spy inside Nazi-occupied land--she, too, risked (and lost) her life because her faith compelled her to help those who were suffering and dying.

Neither film is on Netflix, so I'm trying to figure out how to see them here in Sitka. Does anyone know how a person goes about hosting a screening? I'd like to host a screening for both movies, for the whole community here in Sitka. The stories of Muslims risking, and sometimes sacrificing, their lives in order to save Jews seems to me like important stories to be told right now.

On an entirely different note, the other thing I read that really got my attention was an article in The Atlantic Monthly titled "Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness." According to the journalist writing the article, Sara Bernard, rape happens far more often in the Alaskan wilderness than it happens in the rest of the United States, and in some rural villages the rate of sexual assault or rape is 100%, which is to say that 100% of the women have been raped or assaulted, usually multiple times, often over decades.

The villages Bernard is writing about have no roads connecting them to the rest of the world (this is also the case in Sitka, where I now live, but Sitka is a huge town compared to the tiny villages Bernard is writing about), no police force, no social services (including a medical clinic to examine rape victims), and even no public safety officer or any civic authorities to report crime to. The Alaska State Patrol is the only authority to report to; in the area that Bernard was writing about there are 30 State Troopers to cover an area 4/5 the size of Texas. When a crime is reported (which is rare; most of the rapes go unreported), a Trooper has to get on an airplane to get to the village, which can take days--between weather conditions, shortage of troopers, and just the hugeness of the land.

I highly recommend reading the article. I don't recommend reading the comments. I don't have anything conclusive to say about the article, other than it seems really good to be aware of what is happening in the state where I am now living, a state I have often thought of as my home state.


  1. I too have no idea how you would organize a screening of films that are probably very hard to find. :-(

    As for the rape culture in Alaska, my immediate reaction is the same as the one I had when I watched the documentary THE INVISIBLE WAR, about rape in the military – that is, what the fuck is wrong with people?!

  2. I think that a lot. What is wrong with people? Specifically, what is wrong with MEN? Because let's face it: men are almost always the perpetrators (in both the military and in rural Alaska). And it's not a rhetorical question either. I honestly, really do not know what the answer is. Why do so many men rape women? It's a worldwide phenomenon, a very, very common occurrence. It's not just a handful of sick dudes who are acting like that; it's a HUGE percentage of men. I have never heard any satisfactory theory for why men act like that.

  3. Right. I don't understand it either. I guess it's some kind of exercise in power, but my question is where are all the men whose wives, sisters, mothers have been raped? I haven't read the article, but in remote Alaska you would think there would be a high level of reciprocation and revenge – especially since there's no law essentially. One would think that the law of the gun would deter some of these predators. 100% is a crazy number.

  4. Good question, about where the men--the men whose wives, sisters, mothers, etc. have been raped. Well, a big part of the answer is that it is the men who are the perpetrators. Girls are raped by their uncles, fathers, grandfathers, cousins, brothers. Which makes it a hell of a lot more complicated, because to go out and shoot your brother (who raped your daughter) or your father is a whole lot more emotionally complicated than shooting some random stranger. And the violence is SO systemic, so culturally expected, that for the most part it's just....well, accepted. And also this is rape culture we are talking about, where one of the top rules in rape culture is that if a women is raped it must be her fault (this is almost universally experienced among women who have been raped--the feeling tends to be "I must have done something to cause this"--and that feeling is reinforced by the culture at large that is still incredibly misogynistic). That sense that victims have, that it must be their fault in some way, also prohibits reporting of what's happening.

  5. (Including wtf is wrong with people?)

  6. The Atlantic article on rape in remote Alaskan villages also caught my attention when it came out. I think it is an excellent article that makes a lot of sense of my (somewhat limited but expanding) interaction with remote Alaskan communities. Yes, for some communities, there is still mob justice for unsanctioned violence. But as the article notes, rape in villages is allowed and not spoken of. One of the reasons is alcohol. Substance abuse is rampant in Alaska, especially in native villages. Under the influence, men do things they wouldn't do when sober. It doesn't excuse it, and it never will, but alcoholism is a catalyst. When women are drunk, they also become easy targets for abuse. Again, that doesn't excuse anything, and it doesn't shift the blame to women. It is, however, part of why sexual assault is so prevalent. But I like the article because it talks about a fundamentally crucial point in breaking cycles of oppression, abuse and exploitation: telling the truth. That courageous young women are telling their stories will go a long way toward exposing the abuse and bringing about a new way of life.

  7. Tamie, I'm also reminded of our interaction with a native man a few years back and hearing of his story of how he witnessed his father sell his young sisters to white men for sexual assault. I remember we had a lot of compassion for him, and for his family. In terms of this discussion, it makes me think: what kind of damage is done to young men when they witness this kind of thing? I also wonder how sexual assault of young males figures into this. The article didn't discuss this, as it was focused more on the courage of the young women challenging rape culture in their villages. I don't think any of us would be very surprised, though, to learn of sexual abuse of boys..........Another thought.....It was Europeans, of course, who introduced alcohol to native peoples, whose bodies, biologically, are more subject to addiction to alcohol. So, this is certainly an important element of answering wtf is wrong with people?!.....There is probably much more to the story, but the role of alcohol and colonialism is certainly an important part of the answer.